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Editorial: Go ahead, North Carolina Republicans. Put abortion on the ballot

The Charlotte Observer Editorial Board, The Charlotte Observer on

Published in Op Eds

Since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, abortion in North Carolina has remained legal, but Republicans seem eager to restrict it.

GOP lawmakers have already indicated they are likely to pass tougher abortion legislation next year if they win a veto-proof majority in November’s election.

Instead, we offer them a challenge: let the voters decide.

That’s what happened in Kansas, where abortion rights were ballot-tested for the first time since the Supreme Court’s decision — and the results were surprising. Voters in Tuesday’s primary overwhelmingly rejected a constitutional amendment that would have allowed lawmakers to further restrict or ban abortion in the state.

Kansas is a ruby red state. Donald Trump carried 56% of the vote there in 2020, and Kansans haven’t elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate in 90 years. But Tuesday’s outcome contradicted that — the amendment failed by a decisive 59% to 41% margin. With this defeat, the right to abortion will remain protected under the Kansas constitution, as established by a 2019 court decision.

Kansas may have been the first, but several other states, including California, Vermont and Kentucky, are poised to vote on abortion amendments of their own in November.

Why shouldn’t North Carolina do the same?

It’s not as if our state’s Republican lawmakers are categorically opposed to putting social issues up for a vote. A decade ago, the legislature put forth a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Voters approved it, and though it was later overturned in court, it technically remains part of our constitution.

Unlike in some other states, where voters are petitioning to put abortion on the ballot, North Carolinians cannot initiate the constitutional amendment process themselves — it must begin with the legislature. With a three-fifths vote, the General Assembly can pass a bill putting an amendment on a statewide election ballot.

But perhaps lawmakers are reluctant to do so when they may very well dislike the outcome. North Carolina, historically, is not as conservative as Kansas, where registered Republicans vastly outnumber Democrats and unaffiliated voters.

 

In fact, before Tuesday, there were plenty of reasons to think voters in Kansas would approve the amendment. The wording itself was confusing at best, and anti-abortion advocates, Republican politicians and the Catholic Church rallied hard for it — including through campaigns deliberately intended to mislead voters.

That’s why, leading up to the election, pundits speculated the results would be “close.” They weren’t. Voters turned out in historic numbers to oppose the measure, even with no major contested Democratic primaries on the ballot.

What’s most telling is how closely the results mirror public opinion polling on abortion. Surveys have consistently found that a majority of Americans think abortion should be legal in most or all cases, and they strongly disapprove of overturning Roe. The same has been true in North Carolina.

At the very least, what happened in Kansas should send the GOP a clear message: robbing people of a fundamental right, let alone one they’ve enjoyed for nearly 50 years, is something that even conservative voters in red counties oppose. The desire for bodily autonomy, free from government intrusion, transcends partisanship.

At the very heart of democracy lies the idea that elected officials must represent the will of the people. But Republicans in our state rarely seem to act with the will of voters in mind — in fact, they have actively tried to suppress, dilute and obstruct it.

They have a chance to do it differently this time, however. They could take a hint from Tuesday’s defeat and abandon their efforts to hijack abortion rights. Or they could let North Carolinians decide directly what our rights should be. No more hiding behind the excuse that their draconian legislation is “what voters want.”

We know better.

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©2022 The Charlotte Observer. Visit at charlotteobserver.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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